Vacation in the Sun

Putting together Tahiti 80's pop puzzle

If only life could be as simple, beautiful and naive as Tahiti 80. Led by the affable, soft-spoken Xavier Boyer, Tahiti 80 oozes guitar pop so drenched in melody, strings and breathy, doe-eyed vocals it's almost embarrassing. Sure their sound is sweet and trendy, in a cheeky, Mentos kind of way, but trend-seekers they are not. Tahiti 80 are clever, exceptional tunesmiths that remember what made groups (and obvious influences) like the Beatles, the Kinks and even the folk solitude of Nick Drake work: hooks, and plenty of 'em. Named after a souvenir T-shirt given to Xavier's dad in 1980, Tahiti 80 have set their eyes on the world stage with their shimmering Minty Fresh debut, Puzzle — a smart, delicious record that swept across America this summer like a cool, well-chilled cocktail. The beats are giddy and upbeat, the guitars jangly, and retro washes of synths and vocoder sneak in as a welcome surprise. By contrast, the lyrics are painfully introspective, lovesick tomes that make melancholy fun again.

But there's a twist to their story, one that's alluded some listeners, and even a handful of journalists. "I was interviewed by a reporter the other day," Xavier recalls, "and he thought we were from Chicago because the record is on Minty Fresh." They may sound American, or even UK-based, but listen closely to the vocals, and you can hear the faint fracture of linguistic assimilation. Put simply, they're French.

"I think pop music sounds better sung in English," Xavier explains, "similar to how salsa or other world music sounds best in its natural language. But [then again], we don't sound like an English band. The Cardigans, though they also sing in English, don't sound 'English' either. Maybe it's a European sensibility." When pressed as to what then, if anything, is French about their music, Xavier jokes, "well, we don't use accordions, if that's what you mean."

"One good thing about being French is that we can pick up sounds from various countries around us. We're really into old Krautrock, Can, electronic music, Grandaddy, the Beatles, the Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk, Air. Our vision of pop music is not of our own culture, but with fresh new eyes."

Xavier and bass player Pedro Resende are the founding duo, who met through a mutual love of music back in 1993 at the University of Rouen. Sixties pop, unsurprisingly, was their favorite, especially Brit bands like the Beatles, the Zombies and the Kinks, in addition to new records by Olivia Tremor Control, Eggstone and Soulwax. They released a self-produced EP titled Twenty Minutes that earned them attention, mostly in France.

Last year, with Mederic Gontier (guitar) and Sylvain Marchand (drums) completing the lineup, the band flew to New York to record a full-length LP with Ivy's Andy Chase, along with extra assistance from Fountains of Wayne member Adam Schlesinger (contributing keyboards) and ex-Cardinal luminary Eric Matthews (trumpet). The rough tracks were then shuttled to Sweden for mixing by producer Tore Johansson, known for his work with The Cardigans and St. Etienne.

Described by Xavier as "a collection of songs written at various times in our short career," Puzzle was warmly received by college radio across the US and in Canada, and quickly went gold in Japan. "We were really surprised by how well the album has done in Japan. We toured there recently and met Cornelius [the Beck-like Japanese pop star] who created a great remix of 'Heartbeat' for us. It sounds great."

For the rest of the year, Tahiti 80 will be criss-crossing the globe on tour. "We've got a lot of touring to do ... playing the same songs for a while," Xavier says with a slight sigh. "And already we have very strong opinions over how [our next] album will sound."

Such as?

"Well, we don't like it when bands do the same thing over and over, so we're going to try something different than Puzzle — probably with more electronic sounds. But we're really happy with how Puzzle turned out."

When asked about embarking on their first United States tour, a drudgery for many non-American bands trying to break the U.S. market, Xavier excitedly gushes, "A lot of our shows have been sold out, which is crazy. We didn't know what to expect coming here, 'cause we're French, and we simply didn't know how it was going to be. It's incredibly exciting for us."

Tahiti 80 perform Sun., Sept. 24th at Smith's Olde Bar with Ramadamafia. Tickets are $8 in advance, $10 at the door. Call 404-874-5558 for more information.